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The term African people refers to people who live in Africa, or people who trace their ancestry to indigenous inhabitants of Africa. This includes members of the "African diaspora" resulting from the Atlantic Slave Trade such as Black British, Afro-Latin Americans, African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, and Black Canadians. The term Black people is often used as a synonym for people of African ancestry (in particular Sub-Saharan Africa), particularly in the Americas and Europe, although the two terms are not always considered synonymous.

The peoples of Africa

The African continent is home to people of wide-ranging phenotypical traits, both indigenous and foreign to the continent, of diverse origins, and with several different cultural, communal, and artistic traits. Distinctions within Africa's geography, such as the varying climates across the continent, have nurtured diverse lifestyles among its population. The continent's inhabitants live amidst deserts and jungles, as well as in modern cities across the continent.

Prehistoric populations

Study of the Y-Chromosome show that three waves of migration from Africa populated the world with Homo sapiens sapiens.
Study of Mitochondrial DNA show that the original Homo sapiens sapiens population in Africa has diverged into three main lines of descent, identified as L1, L2, and L3.
See the world map
Perhaps it is a function of the number of excavations actually performed in given areas, but it is at least suggestive that the five very earliest out of the twelve of earliest archaeological discoveries of Homo sapiens sapiens have been in Africa and the adjacent Arabian peninsula.

As early as 1964, A. W. F. Edwards and others had discovered that three populations in Africa were related but distinguishable on the basis of a relatively small set of genetic information (20 alleles). Those populations were called Tigre (Ethiopians), Bantu (in southern Africa), and Ghanaianmarker (West Africa).

When general anthropometrics were taken as the criteria for grouping, the African population was split into a different three groups: the more closely related Pygmy (such as the Mbuti) and Bushmen (such as the Khoisan) and the Bantu.

By 1988 more genetic detail were known, more groups could be distinguished on the basis of genetic information, but the relationships among these groups were accounted as different depending on which was the data was construed. The groups analyzed at this time were Bantu, Berber and North African, Ethiopianmarker, Mbuti Pygmy, Nilotic, San (Bushman), West African.

A representation of genetic distances by one analysis
In his recent book, Spencer Wells traces the migration of the early Africans beyond their own continent by noting the appearance of new genetic markers on the Y-chromosome as the migrations progressed.

Studies of mitochondrial DNA conducted within the continent of Africa have shown that the indigenous population has diverged into three divergent main lines of descent.

A number of scholars such as Alan Templeton hold that support is found for traditional racial categories because many studies use the pre-defined categories to begin with, and subsequently insert data into those categories rather than let data speak for itself. Tempeton uses modern DNA analysis to argue that human "races" were never "pure", and that human evolution is based on "many locally differentiated populations coexisting at any given time" - a single lineage with many locally gradated variants, all sharing a common fate.

Researchers such as Richard Lewontin maintain that most of the variation within human population is found within local geographic groups and differences attributable to traditional "race" groups are a minor part of human genetic variability. Several other researchers (Barbajuni, Latter, Dean, et al.) have replicated Lewontin's results. According to a study by researcher L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza:
It is often taken for granted that the human species is divided in rather homogeneous groups or races, among which biological differences are large.
Studies of allele frequencies do not support this view, but they have not been sufficient to rule it out either.
We analyzed human molecular diversity at 109 DNA markers, namely 30 microsatellite loci and 79 polymorphic restriction sites (restriction fragment length polymorphism loci) in 16 populations of the world.
By partitioning genetic variances at three hierarchical levels of population subdivision, we found that differences between members of the same population account for 84.4% of the total, which is in excellent agreement with estimates based on allele frequencies of classic, protein polymorphisms.
Genetic variation remains high even within small population groups.
On the average, microsatellite and restriction fragment length polymorphism loci yield identical estimates.
Differences among continents represent roughly 1/10 of human molecular diversity, which does not suggest that the racial subdivision of our species reflects any major discontinuity in our genome.

In the wake of this research, a number of writers question the classification of African peoples like Ethiopians into "Caucasian" groups, holding that given the minor proportion of human genetic diversity attributable to "race", grouping of such African peoples is arbitrary and flawed, and that DNA analysis points to a range or gradation of types rather than distinct racial categories. Rather than arbitrarily allocating such African groups to a European "race", the range of physical characteristics like skin colour, hair or facial features are more than adequately covered by the differentiation within local geographic groupings.

Indigenous peoples and ancient settlers

Speakers of Bantu languages (part of the Niger-Congo language family) are the majority in southern, central and east Africa proper. However, there are several Nilotic groups in East Africa, and a few remaining indigenous Khoisan ('San' or 'Bushmen') and Pygmy peoples in southern and central Africa, respectively. Bantu-speaking Africans also predominate in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and are found in parts of southern Cameroon and southern Somalia. In the Kalahari Desertmarker of Southern Africa, the distinct people known as the Bushmen (also "San", closely related to, but distinct from "Hottentots") have long been present. The San are physically distinct from other Africans and are the indigenous people of southern Africa. Pygmies are the pre-Bantu indigenous peoples of central Africa.

The people of North Africa comprise two main groups; Berber and Arabic-speaking peoples in the west, and Egyptians in the east. The Arabs who arrived in the seventh century introduced the Arabic language and Islam to North Africa. The Semitic Phoeniciansmarker and Jews, the Iranian Alans, and the European Greeks, Romans and Vandals settled in North Africa as well. Berbers still make up the majority in Moroccomarker, while they are a significant minority within Algeriamarker. They are also present in Tunisiamarker and Libyamarker. The Tuareg and other often-nomadic peoples are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. Nubians are a Nilo-Saharan-speaking group (though many also speak Arabic), who developed an ancient civilization in northeast Africa.

Some Ethiopianmarker and Eritreanmarker groups (like the Amhara and Tigrayans, collectively known as "Habesha") speak Semitic languages. The Oromo and Somali peoples speak Cushitic languages, but some Somali clans trace their founding to legendary Arab founders. Sudanmarker and Mauritaniamarker are divided between a mostly Arabized north and a native African south (although the "Arabs" of Sudan clearly have a predominantly native African ancestry themselves). Some areas of East Africa, particularly the island of Zanzibarmarker and the Kenyan island of Lamumarker, received Arab Muslim and Southwest Asian settlers and merchants throughout the Middle Ages and in antiquity.



Despite having presence in Africa since Greek and Roman times,in the sixteenth century, Europeans such as the Portuguese and Dutch began to establish trading posts and forts along the coasts of western and southern Africa. Eventually, a large number of Dutch augmented by French Huguenots and Germans settled in what is today South Africa. Their descendants, the Afrikaners and the Coloureds, are the largest European-descended groups in Africa today. In the nineteenth century, a second phase of colonisation brought a large number of French and Britishmarker settlers to Africa. The Portuguese settled mainly in Angola, but also in Mozambique.The Italians settled in Libyamarker, Eritreamarker, Ethiopiamarker, and Somaliamarker. The French settled in large numbers in Algeriamarker where they became known collectively as pieds-noirs, and on a smaller scale in other areas of North and West Africa as well as in Madagascar. The British settled chiefly in South Africa as well as the colony of Rhodesia, and in the highlands of what is now Kenyamarker. Germans settled in what is now Tanzania and Namibiamarker, and there is still a population of German-speaking white Namibians. Smaller numbers of European soldiers, businessmen, and officials also established themselves in administrative centers such as Nairobimarker and Dakarmarker. Decolonisation during the 1960s often resulted in the mass emigration of European-descended settlers out of Africa — especially from Algeria, Angola, Kenya and Rhodesia. However, in South Africa and Namibia, the white minority remained politically dominant after independence from Europe, and a significant population of Europeans remained in these two countries even after democracy was finally instituted at the end of the Cold War. South Africa has also become the preferred destination of white Anglo-Zimbabweans, and of migrants from all over southern Africa.


European colonisation also brought sizable groups of Asian, particularly people from the Indian subcontinent, to British colonies. Large Indian communities are found in South Africa, and smaller ones are present in Kenya, Tanzania, and some other southern and east African countries. The large Indian community in Uganda was expelled by the dictator Idi Amin in 1972, though many have since returned. The islands in the Indian Oceanmarker are also populated primarily by people of South Asian origin, often mixed with Africans and Europeans.

The Malagasy people of Madagascarmarker are an Austronesian people, but those along the coast are generally mixed with Bantu, Arab, Indian and European origins. Malay and Indian ancestries are also important components in the group of people known in South Africa as Cape Coloureds (people with origins in two or more races and continents).


During the past century or so, small but economically important colonies of Lebanese and Chinese have also developed in the larger coastal cities of West and East Africa, respectively.


Decolonisation has left some nations in power and marginalized others.

Conflicts with ethnic aspects taking place in Africa since Decolonisation include

Contemporary demographics

Total population of Africa is estimated at 888 million as of 2006, projected to reach 1 billion by 2015.

The demographics of Africa is characterized by high population growth, high infant mortality, low life expectancy (partly due to malnutrition and HIV) and poverty (low Human development index).

These characteristics mostly apply to Central and sub-Saharan Africa, with the Mediterranean (Arabic) North and South Africa showing different patterns.

African-descended people outside Africa

Recently, the idea of an African diaspora, encompassing all people of African identity regardless of where they live, has emerged. There are substantial newcomer populations of people descended from indigenous Africans outside Africa, most notably in Brazilmarker, the United Statesmarker, Canadamarker, the U.K.marker, and the Caribbeanmarker, as a result of the forcible removal of their ancestors from Africa through slavery and the historical Atlantic slave trade. There are also large populations of people of African descent in many South and Central American countries such as: Surinamemarker, Guyanamarker, Panamamarker, Hondurasmarker, and Belizemarker. Brazil received more African slaves than any other country in the Americas and today has the largest population of people of African descent in any country outside of Africa.

There are also substantial minority populations in Europe of African-descended people who emigrated to Europe, and Europe is a popular destination for recent migrants from Africa.

African identity

The term "African" (or just "Afro-") has been used to describe people in a wide variety of contexts.

African Americans

In particular, people who identify themselves as African American acknowledge the fact that they are of African descent, though in most cases they and their ancestors have lived outside Africa for hundreds of years and may have significant non-African ancestry.

African Australian



Afro-Latin American

African Indians

There are also a significant number of African-descended people in present-day Pakistanmarker, as well as Indiamarker, known as the Sheedi. These people are the descendants of the African slaves who were brought over to South Asia three-hundred years ago as indentured labourers. Today, the Sheedis reside mostly in the Sindhmarker and Balochistanmarker provinces of Pakistan and a minority is also found in the Gujaratmarker region of India. Some prominent Sheedi personalities from Pakistan include Hoshu Sheedi and Noon Meem Danish.



Afro-Caribbean is a general term for African descended people living in the Caribbean, whose ancestors were forcibly taken through the Atlantic Slave Trade. Afro-Caribbeans may or may not have ancestry to other places such as Europe, India, China, and/or Arabia.

Pan Africanism

The Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey was an important proponent of the Pan Africanism, which encouraged those of African descent to look favorably upon their ancestral homelands. This movement would eventually inspire other movements ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement (which proclaimed him a prophet). Garvey said he wanted those of African ancestry to "redeem" Africa and for the European colonial powers to leave it.

See also


  1. African Definition
  2. Cavalli-Sforza et al., The History and Geography of Human Genes, Fig. 2.1.4, p. 63
  3. Cavalli-Sforza, op cit., Fig. 2.2.3, p. 71.
  4. Cavalli-Sforza, op cit., Fig. 2.3.2.A and Fig. 2.3.2.B, p. 78.
  5. Spencer Wells, The Journey of Man,Random House, 2003, ISBN 0-8129-7146-9
  6. Human Races: A Genetic and Evolutionary Perspective, Alan R. Templeton. American Anthropologist, 1998, 100:632-650; Apportionment of Racial Diversity: A Review, Ryan A. Brown and George J. Armelagos, 2001, Evolutionary Anthropology, 10:34-40
  7. Richard Lewontin, "The Apportionment of Human Diversity," Evolutionary Biology, vol. 6 (1972) pp. 391-398
  8. Apportionment of Racial Diversity: A Review, Ryan A. Brown and George J. Armelagos, 2001, Evolutionary Anthropology, 10:34-40 webfile:
  9. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, Vol. 94, pp. 4516-4519, April 1997, Barbujani, Magagnidagger , MinchDagger, and L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza
  10. Rick Kitties, and S. O. Y. Keita, "Interpreting African Genetic Diversity", African Archaeological Review, Vol. 16, No. 2,1999, p. 1-5
  11. Robin Hallett, Africa to 1875: a modern history, (University of Michigan Press: 1970), p.105
  12. Réunion Island
  13. Ivory Coast - The Levantine Community
  14. Chinese flocking in numbers to a new frontier: Africa
  15. Lebanese Immigrants Boost West African Commerce

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